Located in Gulfport, Mississippi, the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies is a nonprofit organization supporting research and conservation efforts related to marine mammal species, both those living in captivity and those in the wild. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies was established in 1984 as a research and conservation facility for the protection of marine mammal species, both those currently existing in the wild and those held in captivity.
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Since its inception, the Institute has been a participant in NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a national network overseeing responses to marine mammal strandings and biomonitoring. As the premiere stranding organization along the United States Gulf Coast, the Institute works with local researchers, educators, and scientists from regional and national organizations including Mississippi State University, the University of Miami, the Naval Ocean Systems Center, and the Naval Research Laboratory. The Institute is the only Gulf-area facility open today able to care for sick and injured marine life, offering a veterinary preceptorship program for college seniors and a funding program for graduate student research.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Tours of the Institute are open to the public on a reservation-only basis, offering tour experiences for adults, children, and educational groups and private organizations. An interactive museum experience is offered at the Institute’s Center for Marine Education and Research, with 2,000 square feet of exhibits focusing on native Gulf Coast marine mammal species and biodiversity. A Discovery Room features touch pools for visitors to interact with sharks, stingrays, horseshoe and blue crabs, sea stars, and sea urchins. Discovery Room exhibits also offer observation of saltwater and freshwater fish, snakes, turtles, and invertebrates in aquarium habitats. A fossil dig exhibit allows young visitors to search for shark teeth, which may be kept as souvenirs. A 180-seat auditorium also presents showings of films related to nature and marine mammal topics.
Animal Adventure presentation programs are offered for tour participants, including year-round Dolphin Meet and Greet and Dolphin Encounter programs that allows visitors ages 5 and older to work with trainers and interact with the Center’s resident bottlenose dolphins, Apollo and Bo. During the summer months, a Dolphin Interaction program lets visitors ages 8 and up get directly in the water to swim with Center dolphins. Programs are also available for interactions with tropical birds and reptile species. Young program participants must be accompanied by adults during animal interaction, and payment for all programs must be made at the time of reservation.
Ongoing Programs and Education
In addition to public reserved tours, field trip opportunities are offered at the Center for elementary and secondary students, tailored to incorporate Mississippi curriculum standards. An overnight Dozing With Dolphins program is offered for student and scouting groups, including a behind-the-scenes tour opportunity, a film screening, and animal training presentations. An Ocean Expo Summer Camp is held annually for students ages 5-17, highlighting different marine science topics weekly and offering field trip opportunities to South Mississippi barrier islands and aboard shrimp and pontoon boats. For older students, a Dolphin Camp offers up-close opportunities with the Center’s dolphins, and an Angler Fishing camp for middle grades teaches basic fishing and net casting techniques. Mini-camp experiences are available for field trip groups, offering encounters with sea birds and marine mammals and highlighting topics such as industrial fishing, pollution, and climate change. Dormitory accommodations for all overnight programs are offered at the nearby Seashore United Methodist Assembly in Biloxi.
A Job Shadow training program for students ages 12 and older provides opportunities for observation of marine biologist, marine veterinarian, and animal trainer duties during three-hour weekly sessions. The Institute’s staff and educators are also available for appearances at community events upon request, presenting programs on marine mammal conservation and healthy lifestyles that protect biodiversity. Three-hour scenic excursion cruises are also presented in conjunction with the Center, offering pontoon boat cruises and birdwatching opportunities on the Mississippi Sound and Tchoutacabouffa River from April through October. A future Evening at IMMS program will bring a regular schedule of lectures and workshop programming to the Center, offering educational opportunities for public attendees. The Center for Marine Education may also be rented for private special events, including use of all museum exhibits and auditorium audiovisual equipment for meetings and presentations.
As a full marine mammal research and conservation facility, the Institute has sponsored a number of research initiatives centered on the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s native wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphin population, including assessments of population dynamics and medical and behavioral studies. Current ongoing research projects include photo-identification studies of seasonal movements and transect surveys of population abundance. A number of marine turtle research and conservation programs have been facilitated as part of the Institute’s partnership with the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network. Future Institute studies will address dolphin and turtle populations’ responses to stressors such as oil spills, hurricanes, and human interactions.
10801 Dolphin Ln, Gulfport, MS 39503, Phone: 228-896-9182